The Danger of Filing Improper Income Tax Forms

The ISSS is sometimes asked this question: can an F-1 Student (who is not married to a US resident and who has not been in the US more than 5 years) file a resident US tax return? The answer is no. Unfortunately, students sometimes find an unknowing or unscrupulous tax preparer that will improperly prepare resident returns and get them large refunds to which they are not lawfully entitled. Sometimes students will mistakenly or intentionally file as residents using one of the online or store purchased tax software programs. When the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) discovers the misfiling, sometimes after one year, they will impose severe penalties and require repayment of the wrongly obtained refunds plus interest. If the IRS finds tax fraud has been committed, criminal charges can be brought. A finding of tax fraud can also negatively impact a student’s nonimmigrant status.

The following links from the IRS website address these issues:
“special rules with respect to the taxation of their income” “Foreign Students and Scholars” IRS page at

“Green Card and the Substantial Presence Test” link “Definition of Exempt Individual” (halfway down the page) clearly states a “Student on F, J, M or Q visa” … must wait 5 calendar years before counting 183 days.

A student in F, J or M status who has been in the United States less than five years (for the 2013 income tax filing season, it means that the initial entry in F, J or M status was in 2009 or later) is a non-resident for tax purposes, and must file one of the federal non-resident forms, either 1040NR EZ or 1040NR. GLACIER Tax Prep is available free of charge to BU international students to help them meet their income tax filing obligations.

Last Updated: 8/28/14